Writing Research Papers in College

Editing your Paper

Editing your Paper, Photo by Nic's events

MLA, APA, Chicago, Research papers, and YOU!

Research papers in your own language are one thing. While they may not be your favorite thing in the world to write, it probably doesn’t intimidate or scare you. A teacher or professor says write a paper, you write it and forget it. Papers in a foreign language are scary enough to boggle most people’s minds.

I wrote a couple papers in German, while I was in Austria, and even more once I came back to the States. Included in these was a ten page research paper about a German author and his writing, which I refer to lovingly, and for various reasons, as “The Paper from Hell.”

Below are 6 steps, which will break down writing a research paper in a foreign language, into easy and less intimidating steps.  I mentally go through each of these, when I sit down to write anything in German or English, because in either language, papers can be daunting tasks.

  1. The first thing is to, after doing the research and preparation (an outline is highly recommended, even if the professor doesn’t require it), is too simply sit down and write the paper. Kick your  friends out of your dorm room or apartment, maybe turn on some music, log-off Facebook, MySpace and everything else, and simply start pounding the keys.
  2. Staying focused is half the battle, and once that half is won, the second half becomes easier. It will surprise you, how easily words will flow from your brain, to your fingers, and onto the screen. Don’t worry too much about punctuation, spelling, and grammar. If you don’t know a word in English write the word in parenthesis() and move on. If it’s a research paper, don’t worry about formatting in-text citations correctly. Put the information you need to find the paraphrase, quote or statistic again in parenthesis, and move on. I usually label my sources A, B, C and so on, and use those as a quick reference.  First drafts are meant to be messy, and always will need editing. When you’ve finished the majority of the paper (everything except for maybe the introduction and conclusion) print it out. Editing on paper is much more effective than depending on your computer screen.

  3. Go through the paper copy and highlight the words you put in parenthesis. Write the English word above it, crossing the other word out with a bright colored pen. The highlight is so you can easily find and ID the words you need to look up, while the pen mark reminds you to take the word out, once you put the English one in. Print another copy. (Eco-conscious users should use recycled paper).
  4. Analyze each sentence for grammar mistakes. Pretend in your mind, this is English homework assigned by your teacher, and that each English sentence is a problem. Read it out loud to yourself if you are unsure. After being in the U.S. awhile, you will have a good sense of what sounds grammatically wrong and right, even if you can’t say why. Print another copy.
  5. Give another copy to a friend who is an English major foreign language major, or wanted to be one at one point in their life, and ask them if they will critically edit your paper for you. These are the people best suited to edit papers. Other students may be willing to edit the paper for you, but they might not know grammar well enough to catch the smaller issues.If you don’t have a friend who is an English major, or wished they were one, ask your professor or other students in your class if there is a writing center. Most colleges have a center, which will help students edit their papers. These centers are generally free of charge, and can also be helpful when trying to figure out how to best structure a paper. They can also help with in-text citation formatting.
  6. Once your paper is fully edited, it’s time to put together the works cited/ bibliography page. Your professor will let you know what style they want. There are a variety of terms you might hear used. MLA(Modern Language Association), Chicago, APA(American Psychology Association). It just depends on the class. If a professor doesn’t tell you, ask them.

If you have online sources, make sure you know how to access them again, so you can have the information you need to cite it correctly. Then go to: http://www.calvin.edu/library/knightcite/index.php. Find the type of source you need, provide all the information you can, and hit submit. Copy and paste the citation it gives into the citation page, and voila! You have complete works-cited page.


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